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Meet a maple syrup producer from Manitoba: Bob Gass

“The finer the bubbles are, the closer the maple syrup is to getting finished.”

Bob Gass eyes the maple sap simmering away in his commercial evaporator. For roughly a month each spring, he works non-stop cooking the maple sap harvested from his sugar bush.

“I’m watching this all the time,” he said. “You want to get as much heat into it as you can without burning it.”

The sap bubbles on the wood-fired evaporator for about three hours before Gass finishes the process on a propane burner. Then the syrup is filtered and frozen until the end of the season, when he has it professionally bottled to sell. His is a relatively small operation, making between 300 and 500 litres of Manitoba maple syrup in an average season.

“This is from the Manitoba maple that we have growing all over the province,” he said.

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Gass learned to make syrup from his grandparents growing up in the Maritimes. His work with the RCMP brought him to McCreary, where he learned of hobby birch and maple syrup makers in the area. In retirement, he began his small commercial operation, tapping about 1,000 trees per year on the edge of Riding Mountain National Park.

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“I’d like to pick up 3,000 litres a day. 2,000 is okay. And then if I get, say, five runs at 2 to 3000, that’s kind of my season, in a good year,” he said.

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Maple syrup is so popular in the area, McCreary holds a festival to celebrate the local delicacy. Now in its 11th year, the Maple Syrup Festival features a maple dessert competition, pancake breakfast, beading and pemmican-making workshops, and musical performances. A newly opened cafe in town, The Maple Bug, serves maple lattes. Gass gives tours of his evaporator setup and sugar bush to festival attendees, some who travel from Winnipeg and Brandon for the weekend.

Few maple syrup makers in the area sell their product commercially like Gass does, and he only sells in Manitoba. There simply isn’t enough to export. But Gass believes the market could expand.

“As an industry, it’s small,” he said. “The potential is there. The biggest hold up we have is not a lot of folks doing it at a commercial level.”

Manitoba’s agriculture minister Ron Kostyshyn attended the Maple Syrup Festival for the first time this year, and agrees.

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“Opportunity knocks, let’s make it happen in the province of Manitoba,” he said.

The success of Gass’s season depends heavily on the weather.

“It’s got to freeze at night, five below minimum,” he said, “and it’s got to thaw during the day. After a long freeze you usually get a two or three day run.”

He adds while Manitoba’s landscape is less suited for collecting sap than Ontario or Quebec’s, Manitoba’s product has a unique flavour – one he says is better than the eastern syrup.

“Most of us in the business like the darker syrup,” he said.

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